Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
Designed by Jacob Fryxelius
Published by Stronghold Games & Fryx Games - 2017
Hellas & Elysium is NOT an expansion. It does NOT expand the game, it does NOT add more mechanics, heck it doesn’t have a single component outside of the double sided board! And you know what? I’m totally cool with that! For a game as systems heavy as T.M., I was actually a bit relieved when I found out that this new “expansion” is more of an officially produced variant. Like the best remix albums, Hellas & Elysium gives us a new way to enjoy the same great game.
Hellas & Elysium is about as sparse as you can get; a double sided board vacuum sealed with a rule sheet, serving as both reference and sleeve. Both sides of the board are new maps to explore, each with their own unique geography, awards, milestones, and color schemes. As with the colonialists of old, it’s thrilling to see new uncharted land to pillage and sculpt into the industrial paradise that our mega-corporation hearts desire. But to be clear, these are not side boards added to the game, each is a replacement that can be swapped out with the basic Mars board; otherwise setup remains exactly the same.
While the new layouts of mars present fresh opportunities and challenges, encouraging the terraforming process to take shape in different ways, it’s the new awards and milestones that make the expansion come to life. Some, like Elysium’s “Desert Settler” (which grants points for having the most tiles in the bottom four rows), encourage you to interact with the game in ways specific to the map you’re playing on, forcing you to judge the value of investing in a land entirely devoid of precious plants. On the other hand, others like Hellas’ “Diversifier” or “Tactician” (which require that you have 8 different tags or 5 cards with requirements in play), are fantastic ways to completely reassess the cards from the base game that you’ve become so familiar with.
Is it good?
The two things I love most about these boards are the new “achievements” and the color scheme. I know it’s a petty thing to harp about, but back in my Terraforming Mars review I did bring up how garish the “Disco Thanksgiving” pallette was, and it’s amazing how much more cohesive the blue and green point tracks makes the whole game look. As for the awards and milestones, they are brilliantly designed. Simultaneously intuitive yet completely fresh, they revitalize the game by giving much more situational value to your cards. As with the base game, I think the awards and milestones are what create the most tense moments and drive player interactivity in the game.
On the other hand, I’m pretty underwhelmed by the new topography of the boards. Not that they’re bad, mind you. It’s just that it really hasn’t made the game feel any different. Sure, some cards like Capital City will feel more or less powerful depending on the map, but overall it just feels like the same ol’ barren landscape from before. The only reason why these new maps need to exist is so that some of the aforementioned achievements make sense, and even those could have been re-tooled to not rely on the board.
Should you get it?
if you were only on the fence with the original, or were hoping that this expansion would somehow fix the game, you’re out of luck. Hellas & Elysium add exactly 0 new mechanics to the game, instead remixing concepts in place from the start. But, for the diehard Terraformer such as myself, yeah, I think these new boards are great. While wholly unnecessary, they still manage to preserve the purity of a game I love, while giving me totally new ways of enjoying it. If you love Terraforming Mars but your corporate greed is no longer sated by the base game alone, I think Hellas & Elysium is a no-brainer.
Can't get enough TCbH Terraforming Mars content? Check out our base game review, our interview with Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games, or our Hellas & Elysium first impressions video on youtube.